Achievement gaps generally worse in 2016 KPREP testing

Part of the massive Unbridled Learning data package includes academic test score results across the state for both white and African-American students (hereafter black students for brevity). That allows us to look at the changes in the white minus black achievement gaps since last year, material that didn’t get much coverage elsewhere.

Sadly, that picture does not look very good – and especially so for Kentucky’s black students – as you can see by clicking the “Read more” link.

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We REALLY have some achievement gap issues!

Contained in the Media Advisory about the 2016 Unbridled Learning scores is Kentucky Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt’s admission that we have a continuing achievement gap problem.

Said Pruitt:

“We saw some improvements overall in scores, but there are still huge gaps between groups of students. We need to be honest with ourselves about the huge achievement and opportunity gaps that have persisted in our schools for far too long. We need to take collective ownership of this problem and undertake a culture change at KDE, in our schools and districts, and in our communities that is committed to preparing all students for a bright future.”

I could not agree more.

So, for my first, quick look at achievement gap issues in the 2016 Unbridled Learning data, I decided to check out two schools that had enormous, 50-points plus white minus black achievement gaps for math in 2015 as discussed in our “Blacks Continue Falling Through Gaps in Louisville’s Schools, The 2016 Update” report, which came out back in February.

Those schools are the Dunn Elementary School and the Noe Middle School.

Very briefly, the very REAL problem in these two schools got even worse. Their already enormous gaps got even bigger in 2016!

This table tells the tale.


In the case of Dunn Elementary, the white minus black math achievement gap not only shot up from 50.5 points last year to 66.8 points in the new 2016 data, but black students in the school actually LOST significant ground, scoring only 14.6 percent proficient in math this year – a decay of nearly 10 points from 2015!

The Noe picture is not quite that bad, though its already very large gap got still larger. Blacks did make a small amount of progress in math at Noe, and the black proficiency rate was even above the district-wide average. But, white scores shot up more, so the already enormous gap at Noe got bigger. In fact, Noe’s white score for math in 2016 was the second-highest in Jefferson County. The blacks ranked notably lower at 9th place. Why does Noe do so great for whites but notably less well for blacks?

Clearly, the worst situation is found at Dunn. While Dunn’s whites posted the eighth best math score in Jefferson County in 2016, its blacks ranked way down in 87th place out of the 91 schools that posted scores for blacks. Obviously, Dunn’s 2016 math proficiency rate for blacks of only 14.6 percent is notably lower than the math scores posted by a lot of West Side Jefferson County elementary schools where most blacks actually live. In the case of Dunn, at least, it looks like blacks might be better off by staying off the bus and attending their local West Side school.

By the way, Dunn isn’t unique in 2016 as the only elementary school with a white minus black achievement gap exceeding 50 percentage points. This year, Hawthorne Elementary, Coleridge-Taylor Elementary, and Alex R. Kennedy Elementary School also posted 50-plus gaps. The top-end gaps situation is getting worse in Louisville.

One more point: Dunn was rated as a “Distinguished” school again in 2016. Obviously, white minus black achievement gaps don’t matter in Unbridled Learning.

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More on the collapse of school accountability credibility in Kentucky

I blogged earlier about the obvious inflation in the 2016 Unbridled Learning high school ratings for Kentucky. Let’s look at the elementary and middle school information.

Table 1 shows the Unbridled Learning classification averages for elementary schools from 2012 to 2016. It also shows the individual proficiency rates for the various academic subjects tested in the program along with my calculation of the overall averages of those academic scores. The data shown with white background come from Kentucky Department of Education News Release 16-115. The numbers with yellow backgrounds are my calculations.

Table 1


Notice that when Unbridled Learning began, the percentage of schools being classified as Proficient or Distinguished was generally much lower than the proficiency rates being posted for the related academic subjects. Comparing the overall average academic proficiency in 2012 to the school classification percentage shows a difference of 18.9 percentage points in favor of the academic average.

Also note that the overall average academic score in 2014 was higher than the 2016 score.

Flash forward to 2016 and the percentage of schools classified as proficient or more is now 8.9 percentage points higher than the overall academic average. That is a change from 18.9 points behind to 8.9 points ahead of the test score averages – a relative change of nearly 28 points in just four years. That is pretty difficult to accept.

Most importantly, the overall academic average barely budged, moving up from 49.6 percent in 2012 to only 51.7 percent in 2016 – a change of just 2.1 percentage points.

Even more disturbing, between 2014 and 2016 the overall academic performance actually declined by 2.3 points from 54.0 percent proficiency to 51.7 percent. Meanwhile, between 2014 and 2016 the percentage of Kentucky’s elementary schools classified as Proficient or above in Unbridled Learning soared from 48.5 percent to 60.6 percent, a rise of 12.1 points.

The elementary school Unbridled Learning school classification trends look inflated to me.

Table 2 shows the middle school results.

Table 2


The middle school results basically mirror what we find in the elementary school data. Again, this is inflated, too.

Of course, neither the elementary nor middle school inflation looks as bad as the high school situation I blogged about earlier, but both of the lower level schools’ results have clearly become inflated, too.

So, my advice is to generally ignore the Unbridled Learning classification stuff. It is all being phased out next year, anyway.

Instead, check the test scores. Not only are they simpler to understand, but they also don’t seem to have nearly so much inflation.

In fact, looking at the test scores indicates we have not made much progress at all in the time since 2012 when we first started to really use Common Core State Standards to drive both our classrooms and our math, reading and writing assessments.

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Collapse of school accountability credibility in Kentucky – Again!

New Unbridled Learning school accountability results clearly inflated

Well, it looks like a third “Out” is richly deserved for the credibility of Kentucky education’s ability to self-grade its performance. Following the same, troubled trail of Kentucky’s former KIRIS and CATS public school accountability programs, Kentucky’s Unbridled Learning public school assessment and accountability system is now producing inflated pictures of performance.

How inflated are the school classifications in the 2016 Unbridled Learning report? Table 1 tells the story for high schools, by far the worst situation.

Table 1


Back in 2012, the first year of Unbridled Learning school accountability, my analysis of data in the “Number of Schools and Districts by Classification” table on Page 5 in the Kentucky Department of Education’s Media Advisory 16-115 indicates that only 30.4 percent of the state’s high schools were classified as Proficient or Distinguished by the Unbridled Learning program. That classification percentage was lower than the percentages of students scoring at or above Proficient in five of the six academic subject areas reported and virtually tied with the proficiency rate for the sixth subject, science.

In 2012 I calculate that the average proficiency across all six academic subjects was 42.8 percent. That was notably higher than the overall percentage of high schools that reached the Proficient or better classification.

Now, look at the 2016 data. In 2016 an incredibly high 83.8 percent of our high schools received an overall classification of Proficient or Distinguished from Unbridled Learning.

However, the all-subject average proficiency rate was still way down in the 40-percent range at only 48.8 percent.

Still worse, in no case did individual subject area proficiency rates even begin to approach the overall classification figure of 83.8 percent proficient or more reported for 2016.

That’s just not credible.

But, it gets worse.

The media advisory also shows how Kentucky’s Juniors performed on the ACT college entrance test in recent years after the ACT changed its score reporting to include some students who got extra time to take the test. Table 2 shows the percentages of students who scored high enough on the ACT to reach the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education’s (CPE) benchmark scores. Those CPE benchmarks allow students to avoid taking remedial courses in the related subjects as college freshmen at Kentucky’s public postsecondary institutions.

Table 2


As you can see, the benchmark results show there hasn’t been much change in college readiness over this four-year period. In fact, the math performance is essentially flat between 2012-13 and 2015-16. Furthermore, the math performance is notably lower than it was in 2013-14.

CPE English benchmark performance also dropped between 2013-14 and 2015-16.

Clearly, all of the benchmark percentages in Table 2 are far below the percentage of high schools rated proficient or more in the 2016 Unbridled Learning.

Referring back to Table 1, between 2013-14 and 2015-16, the percentage of Kentucky’s high schools that were classified as Proficient or above skyrocketed by more than 22 points. The CPE benchmark performance indicates no improvement anywhere near that magnitude occurred.

By the way, I’m not the only one concerned about the obvious inflation in the new Unbridled Learning results. Bluegrass Institute Scholar Gary Houchens, speaking on his own behalf and not for his college or the state board of education, says:

“The so called accountability system masks the real story of lackluster student achievement.”

When Unbridled Learning says 83.8 percent of our high schools meet muster while far lower percentages of our students do, Dr. Houchens is obviously right.

By the way, Kentucky education’s self-scoring game started in 1992 with the introduction of the Kentucky Instructional Results Information System (KIRIS). KIRIS struck out in 1998 after becoming grossly inflated.

Kentucky education’s second “batter” in this game was the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System, the CATS as everyone called it. CATS struck out in 2009. Again, the strikeout call was based on obvious inflation in scores.

Now, the third batter in Kentucky public education’s attempt to field an accurate and credible school accountability program – the Unbridled Learning system – richly deserves being called out. Once again, inflation is now rampant in the Bluegrass State’s school classifications, especially so for the state’s high schools.

Clearly, the Unbridled Learning high school classifications for 2016 are nonsense.

So, here is a serious question going forward. Is it fair to our kids to expect the same people who run the school system to also judge its performance? Should evaluation of our public schools be conducted by a separate, neutral organization that doesn’t have to self-judge its performance with the sort of model we have been using without success since the early 1990s?

We know the Kentucky Department of Education is hard at work on a replacement for Unbridled Learning, but is this the right agency to create that performance assessment system when a part of that performance is clearly the responsibility of the department itself?

Should legislators consider another model for school accountability, one where an independent evaluation agency conducts the assessment and accountability program?

Unfortunately, Kentucky has already struck out three times trying to get this right. The problem is that the ones who really lose in this game aren’t educators, they are our kids.

(Updated at 9:10 am to change “News Release” to “Media Advisory” and at 12:55 pm to correct data source pages in Table 1)

Legislators, candidates invited to sign pension-transparency pledge

For Immediate Release: Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016  bipps-logo_pick-2

Contact: Jim Waters @ 270.320.4376  

(LEXINGTON, Ky.)  — The Bluegrass Institute recently mailed a copy of its newly created Legislative Pension Transparency Pledge to all incumbent lawmakers as well as to legislators and candidates campaigning for seats in the Kentucky General Assembly during this year’s election.

The 67-word pledge vows support for “making the commonwealth’s legislative pension system fully transparent, including requiring the disclosure of the name, status and projected actual retirement benefits and benefit payments from the Legislators’ Retirement Plan, Judicial Retirement Plan, Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System and Kentucky Retirement Systems of all current and former members of the General Assembly.”

A copy of the pledge for signing may be printed out here.

The pledge should be signed and sent to the Bluegrass Institute at P.O. Box 11706, Lexington, KY 40577-1706. The Institute’s address is clearly indicated in the middle of the pledge.

“Lawmakers and candidates who sign this pledge will be committing themselves to support the Bluegrass Institute’s policy of transparency for the legislative pension system, which will reveal not only how much but how many taxpayer-funded retirement checks legislators are – or will be – receiving,” Bluegrass Institute president Jim Waters said. “Pledge signers will be stating an unwavering commitment to making legislators’ retirement benefits transparent whenever a vote is taken or support of the policy is needed in any other way.”

Copies of the pledge were sent to addresses listed by candidates with the Kentucky Secretary of State’s office when filing for this year’s election and to those included on the bio pages of lawmakers not appearing on the Nov. 8 ballot. Retiring lawmakers or those who lost their primary bids also are being asked to sign the pledge since most of them will soon be benefiting from taxpayer-funded retirement benefits.

The Institute will reveal on October 19 who did and did not sign the pledge. This will ensure that voters know who does and does not support open government.

For more information, contact Jim Waters at, 859.444.5630 ext. 102 (office) or 270.320.4376 (cell).

Does Kentucky’s postsecondary education system believe all graduates are competent in Algebra II?

I have been writing a lot about some obvious indications that quality control for Kentucky’s public high school diploma needs serious work. Whether we are talking about an analysis of college and career ready indicators or another analysis based on the fact that Kentucky regulation 704 KAR 3:305, Minimum requirements for high school graduation, requires students to be competent in math through Algebra II, we have seen that what it really takes to get a high school diploma in Kentucky varies widely by school district.

In the case of the Algebra II requirement, it looks like Kentucky’s Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) knows a lot of the state’s high school graduates really are not competent in Algebra II. Here is how I know that.

The CPE has established its own set of Benchmark Scores for the ACT college entrance test to determine if students are ready for credit-bearing college courses in subject areas of English, math and reading.

In a short CPE paper titled “College and Career Readiness in Kentucky,” there is a section titled “What ACT scores determine college readiness for Kentucky students?” It says:

“The Kentucky systemwide standards of college readiness are ACT scores of 18 for English, a score of 20 for reading, and a mathematics score of 19 for some introductory courses in mathematics (often statistics or an applied mathematics course), a 22 for college algebra, and a 27 for calculus (Underline added for emphasis). The Kentucky systemwide standards of readiness guarantee students access to credit-bearing coursework without the need for developmental education or supplemental courses.”

So, here’s the deal.

If a student were really competent in Algebra II, shouldn’t he or she be ready for college algebra?

But, if ALL Kentucky high school graduates really were competent in math through Algebra II, shouldn’t any graduate be able to meet that ACT score requirement of 22?

Why does CPE even need to bother with lower ACT score thresholds for non-remedial math course entry?

Obviously, a lot of high school graduates in Kentucky can’t meet the ACT Math Benchmark Score of 22, and the CPE knows it. In order to fill its classrooms, the CPE is apparently willing to admit students into some lower level math courses that don’t require competency in Algebra II even though Kentucky regulations supposedly require this level of math ability from any high school graduate.

The bottom line is that a promise about high school graduate math ability made to Kentucky through regulation 704 KAR 3:305 isn’t being kept. A whole lot of kids are getting Kentucky high school diplomas even though they really are not competent in Algebra II. And, even the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education knows it.

North Carolina survey: Parents want more school choices

NC choices especially help African-American males

Unlike Kentucky, North Carolina already has some great school choice options for low-income students including a charter school system. Thanks to those options, that state now has evidence that especially for African-American males, schools of choice are proving far more successful at overcoming significant achievement gaps faced by these students of color.

Hear Dr. Terry Stoops discuss the North Carolina choice results, including those for African-American males, by clicking here.

If your time is limited, move the audio time slider to 5 minutes and 40 seconds into the broadcast to hear how North Carolina’s schools of choice, including charters and even district-provided choice options, are doing a better job for African-American boys.

To be sure, the achievement gaps remain a major issue in Kentucky, as we have frequently pointed out at the Bluegrass Institute, including a series of reports on Blacks Falling Through Gaps in Louisville (read the 2016 edition of this series here).

The situation is so bad that even education folks at the Prichard Committee now admit this is a serious problem in the Bluegrass State.

Clearly, Kentucky is very tardy in addressing the achievement gaps here. At this point, more delay in taking positive action such as is happening in North Carolina is simply unacceptable. Those who continue to stand in the way of choice options in the Bluegrass State need to either face up to the problem or stand aside so others more interested in better results can take over.

Prichard analyst now admits Kentucky has a major school achievement gap problem

Sounding more like a BIPPS scholar than a member of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, Prichard analyst Susan Perkins Westin just had a rather interesting Op-Ed published in the Lexington Herald-Leader. She points out that a bill passed in 2002 to address the achievement gaps situation in Kentucky’s public schools has been largely ignored by just about every level in the education system. From school councils, to local superintendents, right up to the Kentucky Department of Education, Weston points out that the legal requirements were never effectively implemented or enforced.

Clearly, our educators didn’t “Buy in,” a problem we discussed quite recently in another blog.

Lack of “Buy in” has been the problem all along with KERA. Despite sometimes good legislation and a tremendous amount of encouragement, the inescapable fact after a quarter of a century of reform efforts in Kentucky is that an alarming proportion of our public school educators don’t seem very interested in innovation and change.

Thus, as Ms. Weston properly points out now – and as the Bluegrass Institute has been doing for over a decade – achievement gaps continue to be a major problem in Kentucky’s schools. Add in the fact that a notable majority of the state’s students falls under one or more disadvantaged categories of racial minority, poor, learning disabled or English language learner and we are brewing a recipe for major economic disaster.

But, Weston’s approaches to fix the problem seem mostly like more of the “same old, same old.” These approaches have been around for decades and have never produced very much, if at all. I don’t understand how this time we will magically see “Buy in” from our existing traditional public school educators for the same, tired ideas.

This situation is why thoughtful people started to suggest about two decades ago that the traditional school system needed competition to spur real action. The best way to produce that competition is with school choice options that free parents from schools where innovation is mostly an empty slogan and where achievement gaps just go on and on.

Sadly, Ms. Weston and the other folks at the Prichard Committee don’t seem able to accept the obvious fact that our traditional public school system is going to keep on resisting real change so long as there aren’t any real consequences for doing so.

Perhaps the Prichard folks will eventually understand what seems so crystal clear: the traditional public school system will always move too slowly, if at all, without an external stimulus that really spurs some action. School choice can provide that incentive and is doing so in 43 other states right now. So long as Kentucky drags its heels on this increasingly effective measure, so long will our disadvantaged kids continue to founder in a school system that had demonstrated it will even ignore laws – just as Weston points out – when it suits the fancy of the educators running that system.

Governor Bevin calling for charter school legislation in 2017

WKMS public broadcast radio from Murray State University says that Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin is calling for charter school legislation for the Bluegrass State in 2017.

And, it looks like Kentucky could get financial help to establish charters from the federal government.

Even the Prichard Committee admits that Kentucky’s chronic achievement gaps continue after more than a quarter of a century of education reform. So, it is clear Kentucky needs to try something different – something we have not heard about over and over again for the past quarter of a century.

More evidence Kentucky’s larger than average high school graduation rates might not be a good thing

I’ve recently been writing about a highly problematic report from Johns Hopkins University titled “For All Kids, How Kentucky is Closing the High School Graduation Gap for Low-Income Students.” The Hopkins report has many problems, but the biggest issue is fundamental. The report assumes that diplomas awarded in different states require the same level of academic achievement. That is an unfortunate stretch. So, in this blog, I examine some limited academic evidence from the ACT for states that can be reasonably compared to each other. The results further undermine the Hopkins report’s major assumption.

Click the “Read more” link to see the full story.

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